Greta Wolzak wanted to raise awareness of mental health by getting the town involved in the Blue Tree Project.

‘It’s OK not to be OK’ —Newdegate community comes together to paint blue tree

Main Image: Greta Wolzak wanted to raise awareness of mental health by getting the town involved in the Blue Tree Project. Credit: Shannon Verhagen

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Standing tall on the road to the sporting grounds in Newdegate is a grand old gumtree the same hue as the sky on a bright sunny day.

It is there to send a strong and supportive message — it’s OK not to be OK.

As part of the Great Southern farming community’s efforts to raise awareness of and break down the stigma surrounding mental health, they came together in July to paint and fundraise for the Blue Tree Foundation.

In an impressive showing for a town of about 160, 70 people turned up to help paint, including students from the Newdegate Primary School.

The school and community came out to help paint it.
Camera IconThe school and community came out to help paint it.

Newdegate Machinery Field Days sponsorship and promotions officer Greta Wolzak organised the painting day as part of the Field Days’ focus on mental health this year.

“We were focusing on mental health this year for the field day and we wanted to do something for the kids,” she said.

Ms Wolzak said Blue Tree Project chief executive and co-founder Kendall Whyte — who this year received the 2021 West Australian of the Year Youth Award — was inspiring and they loved what she did with the foundation.

“I think it’s great to teach the kids about mental health,” she said. “In this community, we all are pretty open and talk about our own struggles with each other, but it’s important to see a professional as well if you’re struggling.”

The blue tree stands tall on the way to the Newdegate sporting grounds.
Camera IconThe blue tree stands tall on the way to the Newdegate sporting grounds.

The Blue Tree Project has its roots in the Wheatbelt community of Mukinbudin, but has since gone worldwide.

There are now more than 600 blue trees across Australia, New Zealand, Europe and the US.

Communities are asked to find a dead tree in their area that needs a “blue lease on life” and invite friends and family out to paint it.

“We had a look around (at a few), but this tree is just elegant,” Ms Wolzak said. “It’s really beautiful the way it stretches up to the sky.

“We painted right to the top which was quite impressive — well the boys did — and they did a really good job.”

Newdegate Machinery Field Days sponsorship and promotions co-ordinator Greta Wolzak and her partner, local farmer Jos Butcher, helped paint the tree.
Camera IconNewdegate Machinery Field Days sponsorship and promotions co-ordinator Greta Wolzak and her partner, local farmer Jos Butcher, helped paint the tree. Credit: Shannon Verhagen/Countryman/Shannon Verhagen/Countryman

Farmer Jos Butcher said the location meant it would be seen by locals every time they played sport.

“Being here on the way up to the footy club and sports clubs, it’s quite a prominent position so everyone’s reminded about it quite regularly,” he said.

As well as painting the tree — with supplies donated by Bunnings and Taubmans — they also held a raffle and barbecue, raising $2145 for the Blue Tree Foundation.

Ms Wolzak said removing the stigma and encouraging people to talk to their friends and family when they were going through a tough time was an important message for those living on farms, which were often quite isolated.

“We hope the tree reminds people that it’s OK not to be OK and that the community is always here for each other,” she said.

“You can always come into town and into the pub or the sporting community and talk to your mates.”